sMAartblog

Treating Patients When Language Is Only One of the Barriers

Posted on: 05/01/2010

A defective heart, a child detained by border guards — Julia Barquero had already had her struggles. But now her physician at Bellevue Hospital Center, Dr. Danielle Ofri, was trying to explain to Ms. Barquero that she could not receive a heart transplant because she was an illegal immigrant.

Dr. Ofri faltered. Her Spanish was not sophisticated enough to convey nuance; she cowered from the task, she writes in her new memoir, “Medicine in Translation: Journeys With My Patients.” Ultimately, a medical resident had to break the news.

Dr. Ofri often faced this type of challenge while caring for her immigrant patients, who suffer from both physical and emotional traumas brought by genetics and geopolitical winds they cannot control. She and other staff members at Bellevue try to soothe their pain, but they are often hindered by language and cultural barriers, and by the huge gulf between their life experiences.

“There are so many stories out there about immigrants, about people sucking the system dry,” she said in an interview, “but I don’t think people truly understand their experiences.”

Read more: http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/01/04/treating-patients-when-language-is-only-one-of-the-barriers/

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